I think many athletes assume that gaining size and strength is an intense process.
Maybe they imagine something out of an old Rocky movie montage, complete with exotic training methods, endless heavy reps, and even more disgusting protein shakes that don’t taste a whole lot better than cardboard.
That’s definitely an old school growth mindset. These periods of boom and rapid growth at all costs, followed by phases where you can cut back on the madness and lean out. That works, sure, but we know a little better now.
You have to train hard, there’s no question about that. But the truth is that you don’t need extreme methods to find success. And you can gain loads of size and strength without shoveling down bizarre or low-quality foods. What you need most is a fresh mindset, and maybe some helpful tools.
I’ve got you covered.
There are no set formulas.
For a long time I believed that there was a formula somewhere in a book that said, “If you want to gain this much weight, you need to eat this many calories.” But that’s about as useful as thinking that a calorie is a calorie when it comes to losing fat. In reality, the quality and timing of your food intake is much more important.
As I said, there’s a new approach to gaining strength and size, one that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your fitness and athleticism. So, what’s so different about the new school? What have we learned different? I’d say it all comes down to patience.
Athletes that gain the most high-quality muscle and achieve the most success in the gym are the ones that make a strong commitment and add weight slowly, both to the barbell and their frame.
The basics of conscious gaining.
You have to look at the number of macronutrients that your are consuming. No, you don’t have to obsess over it, but you do need to know. Luckily there are tons of apps out there that make it pretty easy to generate better meal plans with reasonable calorie targets. You can find some great examples right here.
Once you set a clear target, think about the quality of your food and your level of commitment. Just because you’re gaining doesn’t mean you should take short-cuts to meet those calorie goals. We don’t have to resort to crushing junk food all of the time. If you’re willing to do the food prep and think ahead, you can get around those limitations.
Some of my personal favorites are high-quality red meat, sweet potatoes, Basmati rice with honey, and of course, whole milk. Dairy is fine if you digest it well.
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Should you eat the same amount of food each day?
What you need to do is think about the day’s training intensity and volume. That’s how you’re going to dial in the quantity and timing of your macronutrient intake. For example, on a high-volume training day you must consume more total carbohydrates. On lower volume training days, you will need to eat more protein and fat. Here are some good starting guidelines that you can adjust in time.
First, the average fitness athletes should consume at least 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight, every day. As far as carbs are concerned, I believe in staying well below the traditionally recommend amount of 1-1.5 grams per pound of body weight. You’ll be lean and perform great at about 0.5-0.65 grams of carbohydrate per pound.
So, an 185-pound Crossfit athlete looking to gain some size and strength might start by making sure they get about 130-150 grams of protein in a day, along with about 100 grams of carbs. An extra serving or two of carbs should be added on those WOD days, remember.
As far as fat goes, I think you should be getting some in at every meal. Eggs, bacon, nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut, dark chocolate, take your pic and enjoy your fill.
How much should you gain each week?
Like I said earlier, you must be patient. But this is not just a goal setting exercise. What people tend to forget is that, any time you try to gain weight really fast it’s going to be hard on your digestive system, nervous, and adrenal systems.
There is a real physiologic cost associated with shoveling food into your face. Without question, gaining weight slowly at the start of your journey will give your body time to adapt to the building calorie burden. You will gain more high quality, lean muscle mass simply because your body has a chance to adjust to the load.
If you’ve ever struggled with your weight, either to lose or gain, then I’ve got a great habit that could change the game for you. It’s also super easy. All you have to do is weigh yourself and chart your progress every day, preferably at the same time, same place, maybe just after or before sleep. Here’s what you do. Take those numbers and pop them into a spreadsheet. I’m no wizard that this stuff, but that’s pretty simple thing to do I think. Just use the numbers to create a very simple line graph that will show you your progress. Do it, every single day.
You should gain pretty quickly once you begin some of the habits we’ve been talking about. You can expect to gain about 1- 2 pounds a week for the first 3-4 weeks, then that would be about right. But after that progress should level off to about 1 pound per week.
@richfroning @benrogers23 @jameshobart @jakelockert killing it in workout 4. @mayhem_for_msr @crossfit A video posted by Thomas Cox MealFit.co (@thomas_mealfit) on
You won’t be perfect.
There will be a few days here and there where you might loose some weight. It can happen pretty quickly when traveling, working on stressful projects, illness, what have you. But what you need to focus on is your graph. Right there you will see all kinds of up’s and down’s day to day, but week to week and month to month you’ll see right there the power of habits.
Your average will still be 1 pound per week. That means you could add about 25 pounds of solid mass in just 6-month’s time, which is not very long at all. That’s pretty powerful.
For the average Crossfitter that’s hovering around 175 pounds, or whatever, moving up to a rock solid 200 would mean sitting at the very top of the whiteboard, in all likelihood. There’s no better way of boosting performance than adding good muscle mass.
Time to do the work.
Here is the thing – Almost anything will work for a while. You can train hard all the time, and likewise, you can try the old school approach of just eating as much as possible. But this isn’t a very good long term success strategy. What’s worse, you can’t help but sacrifice the way you feel and perform when you take an approach like that.
Take it slow. When possible, eat the highest quality food you can. Know your macro targets, and how those targets should change training session to training session, week to week, and month to month.
That’s a strategy that will lead to success, I promise.
I know I probably didn’t address everything you might want to know. Just leave a question in the comments below, I’d love to help out.
Train hard, eat smart.
- Make sure to check out Thomas’ site, MEALFIT. You’ll find tons of great diet information there.
- Ready to take your strength to the next level? Check out the Barbell Shrugged Strength Guide. It’s 100% free…and awesome!